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The Koehnken Organ at Covenant Seminary
by the late Robert I. Thomas

cts_organ02smAt the request of Dr. Robert G. Rayburn, then president of Covenant Theological Seminary, a search was launched for a good, used, tracker action pipe organ of suitable size to be located in the chapel which was about to begin construction. Leads were checked out; a two-manual (keyboard) organ at St. Henry’s Roman Catholic Church in Cincinnati, Ohio became the best prospect. The church’s congregation had dwindled, the organ had stood mute for years, and the Gothic building was slated for demolition. Negotiations for its purchase were quickly completed and generous members of the seminary board gave funds for its purchase, moving and rebuilding.

Dismantling was arduous and sometimes dangerous and the marathon of trips up and down the winding stairway of the high balcony to carry thousands of parts for packing was exhausting. The Johann H. Koehnken organ at CTS is believed to be the oldest two-manual organ in the state of Missouri. Restoration and building of 19th-century pipe organs requires special skills, dedication and sympathy for this style of instrument, qualities not shared by all organ builders. Louis IX Associates of St. Louis was selected by the Seminary to complete the job of moving the organ and commencing the first stages of restoration. The organ arrived in St. Louis in two large trucks on November 3, 1976, to be stored until the chapel was ready.

This organ contains about 4,500 moving parts, each of which was cleaned, repaired or replicated with a replacement part when necessary in a time-consuming but careful manner. Most of the parts are beautifully handmade of wood, and will last for centuries if properly maintained, though this type of organ requires a minimum of attention except at 50- to 75-year intervals. This organ, over 100 years old, is so constructed that it is able to peal forth the praises of God for hundreds of years more.

cts_organ03smThe original builder of the organ, Johann H. Koehnken [1819-1901] emigrated from his native Saxony, where he had trained as a cabinetmaker and worked as one for two years, to continue his trade in Wheeling, West Virginia,, for another two years before arriving in Cincinnati in 1839. There he was taught organ building by his employer and fellow German Mathias Schwab, who had come to the United States in 1831. Schwab was the West’s first major organ builder, and he supplied finely wrought instruments over a wide area, including Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis. Of the hundreds of organs built by Schwab, only two are know to exist in original condition and both are in Kentucky.

When Schwab retired in 1860, he left the firm in the hands of Koehnken, and the business became Koehnken & Company. Schwab had hired Gallus Grimm, a German cabinetmaker with four years of organ building experience, in 1853, which led to a life-long partnership which was reflected in the firm’s name after 1875, when it became known as Koehnken & Grimm. After Koehnken’s death, the first was styled Grimm & Son.

The organ at Covenant Seminary is not the first by Koehnken to be in St. Louis. Research located an account of the instance when Koehnken loaded four organs on a flatboat, brought them to St. Louis, and spent seven months here installing them. The firm’s organs were well known throughout the Ohio Valley and in other parts of the Midwest. Tragically, not many of them remain, with most having been needlessly destroyed or discarded as “old.” Those extant are now recognized for their grand sound.

The Search for the Organ’s History.
The organ was built in 1869, four years after Mathias Schwab’s death, for the Mound Street Temple of the K. K. Benai Israel Congregation in Cincinnati, at a cost of $4,900—the price of a fine organ indeed in that era!

When the organ was removed from St. Henry’s Roman Catholic Church in Cincinnati in the Fall of 1967, no one knew the organ’s history. But organ historians could take one look at the instrument and tell that it was of a style that predated St. Henry’s, which was built in the 1890’s. The obvious clues to the organ’s earlier date include the large amounts of wood ornamentation above the display pipes, the square stop shanks, and the hitch-down Swell pedal. Furthermore, dates written inside the case went as far back as September, 1872, nearly a year before St. Henry’s previous building was begun, and wherein the ceiling height would not have accommodated the organ.

The large, six-pointed star in the center pinnacle of the case was a clue that indicated the organ may have been built for a Hebrew temple. But such stars are sometimes used in Christian settings as double symbols of the Trinity. At any rate, the old Isaac Wise Temple, a few blocks from St. Henry’s Church in Cincinnati, still had its much large 1866 Koehnken organ, and this was the only organ it had ever had. So the CTS organ could not have come from there.

The confusion began to clear when it was learned that the K. K. Benai Israel Congregation (now spelled “Bene”) in Cincinnati had had, in its Mount Street Temple built in 1869, a Koehnken organ of two manuals and thirty stops, which is the very same as the CTS organ. Accounts of the Temple’s 1869 dedication state that the organ case had features of heavily carved black walnut, with the carving gilded and with the display pipes stenciled in bright colors. The CTS organ had these features, though the colorful stenciling had been obscured by several coats of gold paint. The Mound Street Temple was said to have an architectural blend of Gothic and Arabic styles, and this same blending can be readily seen in the CTS organ case, with its pointed and rounded arches.

The names Harris and Johnson are chalked inside the case with the dates 1872 and 1878. Membership rolls from the Temple, as researched by Mr. Willard Kahn of that congregation, include both names in that general era, and a David Israel Johnson helped found this “first Hebrew congregation of the West” in 1819. Through the courtesy of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, it was learned that St. Henry’s Church acquired the organ as a gift from their men’s club in 1907, which facts fit beautifully with the Hebrew congregation’s move to a new Rockdale Temple in 1906 or 1907 and their abandonment of the Mound Street Temple and its organ. Edward Grimm, son of Gallus Grimm of Koehnken & Grimm, is likely to have effected the move to St. Henry’s in 1907, for some of his business cards were used for bushing beneath the toe boards on the wind chests.

There can be no doubt that this is the organ which was purchased by the K. K. Benai Israel Congregation in 1869, making it one of the fairly early organs in a Hebrew temple in America, the earliest having been built in 1841 by Henry Erben of New York for Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God) in Charleston, South Carolina. Inside the organ, pencilled on a wind trunk, are the initials “M.S.,” which at first led historians to think that the organ might have had some parts built by Mathias Schwab, who died in 1864. But after the link with the K. K. Benai Congregation was made, the initials confirmed it : the builders very likely had written “M.S.” on the wind trunk for the Mound Street organ to distinguish it from other, similar windiness, under construction at the same time for other organs.

Although a few other organs are known to exist in Missouri, they are all small and with but one manual (keyboard). The 1869 Koehnken organ at Covenant Seminary is believed to be the oldest two-manual organ in the state!

Upon completion of construction and the installation of this magnificent organ, the dedication of the Robert G. Rayburn Chapel took place on May 18, 1979. A litany especially composed by Dr. Rayburn was used in the dedication service.


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Harold Samuel LairdThe Rev. Harold Samuel Laird was a man of great Christian character, always spoken of with the greatest respect. Forgotten now by the current generation, he was in his time a pastor among pastors and a significant leader in the conservative Presbyterian movement in the 20th century. Taking advantage of your pending holiday, we present a longer post today, a sermon by the Rev. Harold S. Laird, preached on the occasion of the annual Thank Offering service of the Women’s Missionary Society, November 25, 1934. We trust you will be edified and challenged by reading of this sermon:—

Our Great Commission

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These three verses contain what is commonly called “The Great Commission.” On this occasion I have chosen to refer to it as “Our Great Commission,” because of the fact that we are considering it together, as a body of disciples of Him who gave the commission.

In these words I have as a pastor my justification for urging upon you as members of this church, and professed disciples of Christ, a great activity in the work of missions. More than this, in these same words we as the Session of this church have encouragement for the continuance and maintenance of our missionary effort above any other work in which we may be engaged. But still further, in these same words we as a body of professed believers in Christ find a positive obligation and duty to carry the Gospel into every corner of the world.

In order that we might the more clearly see our duty both as a church and as individual members, I ask you to consider carefully with me this Great Commission as we find it in the three verses of our text. Here there are three facts which may be clearly discerned through careful analysis of the verses—the source of the Great Commission, the object of the Great Commission, and the encouragement to those who will obey the Great Commission.


laird_great_commissionWhence did it come? From whom and by whom was it given? I am glad that the Scripture has not left us in doubt as to this. The text declares that it was Jesus who spoke the words. The source of this commission was not Moses, nor one of the prophets, nor even the foremost missionary, Paul. God’ could have given it to the church through any one of these, for all of them “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” but He chose rather to give it through Him who “spake as never man spake,” but “as one having authority.”

It is tremendously significant to note that before our Lord Jesus spoke the words of the commission, He definitely claimed for Himself authority with the statement, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” The King James Version translates it “power”, but a careful reading of the Greek makes it clear that what He was really claiming here was authority, and not power as we are familiar with the usage of the word in the New Testament.

I am reminded of the passage in Daniel which speaks of Jehovah as “he (that) doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” In this passage the man of God is ascribing authority unto Him that ‘‘sitteth in the heavens. ” It is the same authority which the Lord Jesus claims for Himself as He introduces the Great Commission, saying, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”

Because this commission came from Him who had such authority, it came as a command. He did not speak these words as a mere request, suggesting that the Church might go or not, as it pleased. He who possessed such authority was not in the habit of making requests of His subjects. When He speaks, He speaks to command, and why not? Is not this the way of kings? Let us remember that He is a King, the King and Head of His church. Surely He has the right to command the church He purchased with His own blood, and in which are numbered those who bear His name and claim thereby to be His very own.

Occasionally I find a professed Christian who declares that he has no interest in foreign missions. I question such a one’s right to call Jesus Lord. If He is Lord, we must have an interest in the things He commands. Those who make such a statement are often exceedingly zealous about attending the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Let us remember that the Great Commission of our Lord is equally as much a command as is His summons to the table of His broken body aid shed blood.

Years ago it was my privilege to attend a great missionary convention in Washington, D. C. On that occasion I listened to the outstanding missionary leaders of the world. One sentence spoken by one of them has lingered with me. It was this: “The question of one’s becoming a Christian is perfectly optional. He may become a Christian or not, as he chooses, and suffer the consequences. But after that one has become a Christian, there is nothing optional about it. He is then duty-bound to be obedient to the Great Commission”.

In view of all this, the first claim of missionary activity does not therefore come from the misery and need of the world. Surely this is a mighty claim, and were you to be transported this morning from your comfortable seat in this auditorium to one of those sections of the world where the Gospel has never yet been preached, and with your own eyes behold the dire need of those who have never heard the story, you would not need further persuasion to create in your heart a missionary zeal.

I shall never forget the impression made upon the First Church of Lewistown, Pa., during my pastorate there, when during our annual School of Missions we had the privilege of hearing the testimony of Dr. L. E. Smith, a medical missionary under our Board of Foreign Missions. In connection with his address to men only he showed a series of pictures taken of patients whom he had treated, showing something of the awful physical need in a land where Christ is not known. Following the address, a man in the church came to me declaring that never could he go to Africa to do what this doctor was doing. I said to him, “If you cannot go, then certainly you ought to make it possible for those to go who will go”. To this he replied, “I know that I should, and I will.”

When I took Dr. Smith to the train, I had occasion while we were waiting on the platform to introduce him to one of the physicians of our town, and I suggested that Dr. Smith show to this man some copies of the photographs which he had used the night before at the church. As he studied the pictures and heard Dr. Smith relate some of his experiences, he declared, “What a place that would be to practice medicine”! Dr. Smith’s reply was this “No man would be willing to practice medicine in that place unless he had in his heart the love of Christ for dying men.”

But this ought not to be the first claim for your missionary activity. Neither does the first claim of missionary activity arise from the fact of the great blessing of the Gospel to those who hear and receive its truths. Were you to go into certain sections of heathen lands today, comparing Christian communities with non-Christian, you would need no other argument to convince you of the value of missionary work, or of your own obligation as a professed Christian to share in it.

In the year 1833 Charles Darwin, the famous scientist and exponent of the chief theory of evolution, paid a visit while in search of the so-called “missing link” to the South Sea Islands, then inhabited by cannibals. As he studied these people, he was convinced that they were the lowest specimen of humanity in the world, in some ways lower even than the brutes. As he came away, he declared that no power on earth could transform those people into a higher form of civilization. He was right, for no earthly power could do that. Just thirty-four years later, in 1867, Mr. Darwin returned to these same islands and found there churches, schools, and huts from which there came the sound of the singing of hymns. This was after the ministry of John G. Paton. Mr. Darwin returned to England and made out a substantial check to the London Missionary Society, sending it with the testimony that he had seen with his own eyes the power of the Gospel and wished to have some share in its remarkable ministry.

It is a significant thing that that which wrought the transformation in the South Sea Islands was not a program of education or social service, but simply the preaching of the Gospel of the crucified, risen Saviour. It is also significant that our Mission Boards do not undertake a ministry of education among such people as those to whom John G. Paton ministered. They rather carry on such programs in lands where civilization has been for generations.

Surely such blessings as those which the Gospel brings do have a mighty claim, as well as the dire need for that blessing, and these ought to transform any professed believers in Christ into a great missionary people. It is because of my conviction regarding this that we set up an annual School of Missions, where we hear the testimony from missionaries direct from the field regarding both the need and the power of the Gospel to meet that need. But as a matter of fact, evidence like this ought not to be necessary to lead us into great missionary activity. The commission itself should be sufficient.

The first claim of any church’s missionary work ought to arise from the direct command of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to be a missionary people not primarily because of the need of the heathen, or the power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to meet that need, but rather first of all because He commands us to be such a people. For this reason the church that neglects foreign missions is disregarding the express orders of her Lord. It is a serious thing to do this, for consider again who He is that we dare thus to disregard. He is the One who claimed, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”


The object is quite as clearly declared in the text as is the source of it. We as a church are to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” From these words it is first of all clear that the church is not to sit still and wait for the heathen to come to its doors, but it is to go to them. Not only so, but it clearly sets forth that it is the duty of the church to go not to some of them only, but to all of them. We are commanded to “make disciples of all nations.’ That means all people everywhere, be they in the heart of a great continent, or in the middle of the sea upon some forsaken island.

The object of the telling of the story is clearly stated. It is not that those to whom we go may be civilized, or educated, good as these things are. We are to have a greater objective than that. We are commanded to go and make disciples. That is, we are to go with the express purpose of leading men to Christ and baptizing them in His name.

Sometimes I fear that the church is missing the clearly given object of its commission as it throws its effort and money into a program of education and social service, all of which is good, but not the object as stated in the commission. I take it to be the duty of every church that sends out missionaries to see to it that these missionaries are putting “first things first.” To the best of our ability, we have done and are doing this in our church. We are endeavoring to be as true as we know how to the great object of our Lord’s commission, which is to make disciples of all nations, that is, to lead men and women everywhere to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as personal Saviour and Lord.


This encouragement comes to us as a mighty promise conditioned only upon our obedience. This great promise follows immediately upon our Lord’s command—“lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.” Sometimes this verse is detached from the preceding verses. Frequently I have heard it used by those who claimed the Lord’s abiding presence regardless of their attitude towards the Great Commission. I am sure that we have no right to separate this promise from the command which it immediately follows. Let us remember that these verses were spoken together by our Lord and that they should always go together. The fulfillment of the one is conditioned by the obedience of the other. It is only when we go that we may claim the promise.

Consider carefully the force of the little word, “Lo.” “Go ye,” says our Lord, “and, lo, I am with you.” It is used to arrest attention and summons us to the consideration of a marvelous truth, namely, the promise of His presence. Not only so, but of His continuous presence—“alway”, every day, every hour, every moment. What a promise, and what encouragement! What a mighty incentive this ought to be to us as a church to go!

The church that does not go has no right to expect His presence and all that presence means in its life and work. Let me say that the church that does not go does not have His presence. It is the church that goes, the church that has a great missionary passion, and a large missionary activity that has His presence and His consequent blessing. This is why I am so eager that this church shall be a great missionary church— because I KNOW that if we obey and go, He will be with us to bless us, even He who has all power in heaven and in earth, as well as all authority.

The best way for any church to know the richest blessing of heaven is for that church to become missionary-minded. I think a year ago today I called attention to the striking testimony of Phillips Brooks, who early in his ministry made the statement that if ever he were called to serve a church that was financially run-down and unable to meet its bills, he would at once urge that church to undertake the support of a foreign missionary. Such a statement sounds like the height of folly to the unbelieving world, but those of us who have tested this promise of the Lord know that this course is not folly but the very height of wisdom.

That which is true of the church is true also of the individual in the church, for what our Lord Jesus says to the church, He says also to you and to me. “Go ye”…if you go… “Lo, I am with you.” Remember, when He is with us, in the sense of this promise, His presence always brings blessing. It was so in the days of His sojourn in the flesh. As it was then, so it is now, for He is “the same yester-day, and today, and forever.” Do you want that Presence and the blessing it guarantees? If you do, obey the Great Commission. “Go ye”!

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kerr_robertPRev. Robert P. Kerr’s little volume, PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE, now moves to a short section on Presbyterian theology. There are three chapters in this section: (1) Presbyterian Theology; (2) Peculiarities of Calvinism; and (3) Calvinism and Self-Government. Today we present the first of these three chapters.

Incidentally, Kerr’s book appears to have gone through at least two printings. The PCA Historical Center has a copy with brown cloth boards and gilt lettering, printed in 1883. So much of the work produced for the Southern Presbyterian Church by the Whittet & Shepperson Printing Company had this same appearance—brown boards, typically with beveled edges, and gilt lettering. This then would be the first edition of the book. The Buswell Library at Covenant Seminary also has a copy, but with russet cloth boards and black lettering. This is most likely a later printing, though the same plates were used, as evidenced by the same typographical error in the numbering of Chapter VII. I don’t see that the book has been reprinted since that time.



“ For we walk by faith, not by sight.”—2 Cor. v. 7.

SALVATION BY FAITH IN A DIVINE SAVIOUR WHO DIED FOR MEN is the great central truth of our holy religion, and it is held by all evangelical Churches. If a man believes this doctrine, he is a Christian, and any denomination which really holds to it is a Christian Church. The differences between evangelical. Churches, while important, are not as the things necessary to the salvation- of the soul.

In the present condition of the world it is well that there should be several denominations. There is more work done, and better work, than if all Christians were in one organization. Now, it would be difficult to maintain the subdivisions necessary for efficiency without differences of opinion. There must be various centres of thought around which men may rally. There is a certain theological system called Arminianism, another called Calvinism, and there are different systems of government and modes of worship, all of which contribute to form the denominations into which, under the providence of God, the Church has been divided. ’The unity of the Church may be sufficiently realized by magnifying our common belief in the great truths of redemption, and in exhibiting at all times a charity, greater than faith and hope, which will shut the mouths of our enemies and command the respect of the world. One of the best signs of our times is the fact that most denominations now recognize one another’s churchship and work together harmoniously for the glory of Christ in the redemption of mankind.

But it is necessary that each division of the great army of Christians should be instructed in the things peculiar to itself, and ought not to be considered uncharitable if it exhibits and defends those distinctive institutions which give it being. There is also need of a brief exposition of Presbyterian doctrines, from the fact that there has been some misunderstanding among other peoples as to what we really believe. For example, we have been accused of teaching the damnation of infants who die in infancy. Though such a statement may seem unnecessary, it is now most emphatically made: The Presbyterian Church holds and teaches that all who die in infancy are saved.

The following is given as a general outline of Presbyterian theology. Some parts of it are taken from an old formula, of unknown authorship, and two articles from the Westminster Catechism;


I. There is one God, the Creator, Preserver and Governor of the universe, who is possessed of every natural and moral perfection.

II. This God exists in three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the same in essence and equal in all divine attributes.

III. The Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and furnish a perfect rule of faith and practice.

IV. God created Adam perfectly holy and constituted him the representative of all his posterity, suspending their moral character and legal relation to his probationary conduct.

V. In consequence of Adam’s fall all mankind are in a state of total moral depravity and are under condemnation.

VI. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is God and man, by his sufferings and death has made atonement for the sins of the whole world.

VII. Through the atonement salvation is freely offered to all sinners in the gospel; and though they are free to accept, yet they naturally reject, this gracious offer, and refuse to come to Christ that they might have eternal life.

VIII. God the Spirit, by an act of special sovereign grace, renews the hearts of all the elect and causes them to accept the salvation of the gospel.

IX. The foundation of the elects’ forgiveness and redemption is the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, received and rested on in faith.

X. God promises to preserve from final apostasy all who have been renewed in their souls, and to conduct them, through sanctification and belief of the truth, into the kingdom of glory.

XI. All men who hear the good news of the gospel and come to Christ will be saved. God from all eternity has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and yet man is free to accept or reject God’s offers of mercy.

XII. God has appointed a day, at the end of the present order of things, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, who will receive those that believe on him into everlasting happiness and sentence the wicked unto everlasting punishment.

XIII. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth, and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.

XIV. Baptism is a sacrament wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost doth signify and seal our in-grafting into Christ and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

XV. It is required of the officers in the Presbyterian Church to accept the system of doctrines of the Confession of Faith, but persons are admitted as ‘private members on a simple profession of faith in Christ, a promise of obedience to him and conformity to the rules of the Church. Whatever admits a man into heaven ought to admit him into the communion of the Church on earth.

The greater part of this system of doctrine is held by all Christians, but there are a few important points in which we differ from other denominations.

The Presbyterian system of theology has been called Augustinian because it was first fully elaborated by Augustine in the fifth century, and Calvinistic because its greatest modern expositor was John Calvin, in the sixteenth century. The most complete statement of these doctrines was made by the Westminster Assembly of Divines, in the seventeenth century, in a “Confession of Faith ” which has become the standard of nearly all English- speaking Presbyterians.

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We continue today with our Saturday excursions into the little book by the Rev. Robert P. Kerr titled PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE (1883). Today’s chapter concerns the office of the deacon in the Church.



These officers were unknown in the Church of God until the time of the apostles. In Acts vi. is given an account of the election of the first Deacons. Being elected by the people, they come under the definition of Presbyterianism.

The elders, having charge of the spiritual concerns of the Church, could not give to temporal matters the time and attention they deserved; so they called upon the people to select

“seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:3-6)

The office thus instituted was extended over the whole Church, and has continued in the Presbyterian body unto this day.

The Deacons are subordinate to the Session, as the Session is subordinate to the Presbytery. Except the highest of all, there is no assembly which is not subject to the review of a higher body The work of the Deacons is to have care of the poor, the sick, prisoners, the property of the church and the money contributed for pious uses. This office has proved of immense benefit in the Church, and should be honored by those who occupy it, as well as by the people whom they serve.

In some branches of the Presbyterian Church godly women have been set apart to assist in the work of the Deacons, as among the sick and the poor there are many duties pertaining to this office which can be better discharged by females.

The divine authority for this office is derived principally from Romans xvi. 1, 2 : “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant” (a “ deacon ” in the original) “ of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you : for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.”

Because this office was perverted and grievously abused by the Roman Church it was generally abandoned by Protestants at the Reformation, but it is now being slowly reinstated by the Church in various parts of the world.

For more resources on the diaconate, see http://pcahistory.org/bco/fog/09/resources.html

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by Rev. Robert P. Kerr


Such being the government under which the Church was living when the apostles were sent out to Christianize the world, it was natural that they should follow the time-honored customs of God’s people in every land whither they went; so we find that as they journeyed among the nations, preaching the gospel and organizing congregations of converts, they “ordained them elders in every church” (Acts xiv. 23)—that is to say, they carried out the old synagogue system of government by elders, with which the Jews dwelling among the nations were familiar. They were not organizing a new Church, but only extending the old Church of God and proclaiming that the Christ had come. The Jews who rejected Christ cast themselves out and virtually made themselves a new body.

We discover, on the one hand, no traces of Congregationalism, for “every church” was ruled, not by the people directly, but by their representatives; nor, on the other hand, of Episcopacy, for the congregation was committed to the care, not of one man, but of several elders. In Acts xx. 28, where Paul was instructing the elders of the church at Ephesus, whom he had requested to come to Miletus, he said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops” (επισκοποι). This word was translated “overseers” in the Old Version, but in the new one—prepared principally by Episcopalians—it is correctly rendered “bishops.” This passage alone shows conclusively that “bishop” was simply another name for elder, for these were elders to whom the apostle was speaking. In the seventeenth verse we read: “And from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church.

A grand feature of the Presbyterian system is the perfect equality in rank of all the elders. It is entirely opposed to the Episcopal distinctions of bishops, priests and deacons. Paul shows the equality of all elders in 1 Tim. v. 17: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” This shows that the elders had the office of ruling in common, but that some, in addition to ruling, “labored in the word and doctrine.” In 1 Tim. iv. 14 ordination is shown to be, not by one bishop, but by “the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery,” which was composed of several elders, or bishops, as they were indifferently styled. In Jerusalem a General Assembly (Acts xv.), composed of “apostles and elders,” was held to decide a question concerning the observance of the ceremonial law, and the decision of this body was sent out to the churches as authoritative. This is conclusive against both Congregationalism and Episcopacy.

We have found that the governmental principle of Presbyterianism runs throughout the whole Bible history; and now, in the book of Revelation, we can catch a glimpse of the same principle operating in the government of the redeemed in heaven. In chap. iv. 4 we read that “round about the throne were four and twenty seats, and upon the seats were four and twenty elders sitting” (not standing), “clothed in white raiment, and they had upon their heads crowns of gold.” The facts that they were “sitting” and that they wore “crowns” indicate authority. Christ on the throne, and the elders sitting around Him, constituted the governing body of the saints. This is the final endorsement of the grand principle of Church government by elders in “that Holy City, the New Jerusalem,” which shall at last descend out of heaven, when “the tabernacle of God shall be with men.”

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